Go to enough award ceremonies and you can get pretty blasé about the awards and the people who get them. I have a good reason to be jaundiced, given my background in broadcast news, where the local Emmys have an award category for everything but cleanliness of the newsroom.

That’s why St. Thomas Day (March 7) stands out as a refreshing moment of clarity and candor: The awards – and 2009’s were no exception – mean something and the people who get them deserve them. I know because I get to do video profiles about their lives and times.


The Distinguished Alumnus is Stephen Nachtsheim, a 1967 grad and a true computer science pioneer, who combines a geek’s love of technology with a businessman’s sense of organization and management. Yet, the former Intel executive had enough of a free spirit to travel the world for a year, with a pack on his back, a smile on his face and a question at hand. View Video

The Monsignor James Lavin winner is Mike Feltault, a 1981 grad and a manufacturer’s rep, who could not only organize his fellow alumni to serve UST but could bring that energy and commitment to a dozen other charities, non-profits and churches in the Twin Cities. View Video

The Humanitarian of the Year is Dan Saad, a 1985 grad and youth shelter director who gave up a business career to help young men and women – with a hand and a heart – to lift themselves out of depression, homelessness and hopelessness to a useful life. View Video

The Professor of the Year is Mark Stansbury-O’Donnell, an art history scholar and teacher, who could make Greek antiquities real and relevant to 21st-century college students, giving them insights into an ancient culture and, perhaps, a better understanding of their own. View Video

And the Tommie Award winner is James Ewer, a Dease Scholar who put together a remarkable college career of service to others, hard work in the classroom and competition on the athletic field. Ewers has been a resident adviser in Brady and Ireland halls, an Academic All-American and the captain of the track team. View Video
Past St. Thomas Day winners have included world explorers, judges, congressmen, pastors, poets, performers, do-gooders and good teachers. What binds them together for me is their genuine affection for St. Thomas, their regard for the education they got and the prevailing ethic in their lives: to get out in the world, do something, do it well and help others along the way.

Most of the award winners who I’ve met have done it with a self-effacing sense of humor. As Will Steger once told me: It’s amazing what you can do in order to stay out of an office, a suit and a tie.

One Response

  1. Mike Fratto, St. Paul

    Kudos to Dave and his comments. This group of award winners are exceptional, although I am usually impressed with the winners each year. It is great the university and its Alumni Association honors men and women in these award areas.
    I also have to compliment the university on the current format (showing videos of the winners) I have heard way too many recipients drone on and on in their acceptance speeches in the past.